AIDA AUSTIN: She’s delighted she had six children, so we’ll fill the benches at her funeral

Home, 4.30pm. Having arrived home from our three-week holiday, my husband and I are sitting on the sofa, at something of a loose end.

“You look a bit morose,” my husband says. 

“I’m just between books,” I say, “I’ve finished The Cairo Trilogy. I miss living in Cairo between the wars. Now I just have to live here, in the rain. Why do we live in the rain?”

“Phone your mum,” he says, “she’ll sort you out with a book.”

5pm. I return downstairs with the phone in my hand. 

“You look happy,” he says, “knew she’d sort you out. How is she?”

“Never better,” I say, “she’s just back from a funeral and off for a swim. She said she’s delighted that she had six children, if for no other reason than to know we’ll fill all the benches when it comes to her own funeral.” 

“Oh,” my husband says.

“She says, ‘God forbid, nothing worse than an empty church, apart from pounding up and down in the pool to keep fit, which is dreadfully boring but must be done.’ She doesn’t mind what happens at her funeral as long as we play the piano trio by Schubert. She says no one will like it, but she doesn’t care.

"Tom wrote down exactly which piano trio on a bit of paper, she says, in case she forgets — and if he’s lost the bit of paper, we’ll be going to his funeral first.”

“So,” he says, “usual story — flying form and fighting fit.”

5.05pm. “What are you doing?” my husband says. 

“Looking up Schubert’s piano trios. There are loads. Hope Tom knows which one.”

5.10pm. My husband and I are listening to Schubert. 

“Maybe I’ll have Schubert at my funeral,” I say. 

“Christ, no,” he says, “I’m not picking that for you.” 

“What would you pick then?” I say. 

“I dunno,” he says, “anything. Something more upbeat.” 

“But what if I don’t want upbeat?” 

“You’ll be dead and unable to have an opinion.” 

“So,” I say, “let me get this straight: when it comes to my funeral arrangements, you’re going to be operating on the principle of: she’s dead and unable to have an opinion?”

“I’ve never thought about it to be honest,” he says, “I mean, will you care what I do, if you’re dead?” 

“Well, that very much depends.” 

“On what?” 

“Well, for example, what kind of flowers would you put on my coffin?” 

“Too easy,” he says, “roses.”

“What kind?” 

“Pink.” 

“What kind of pink would I definitely not want?” 

“Chrissake,” he says. 

“Chrissake” is the wrong answer,” I say. 

“The right answer is ‘salmon-pink’. Called ‘apricot’ to make it sound nicer but it doesn’t make it nicer. What type of rose?”

“Not the ones from Maxol.” 

“Wrong answer. Zephirine Drouhin or Albertine. And how will the roses be arranged?” 

“In a big bunch?”

“Wrong answer,” I say, “you don’t touch them. You get Gessy’s friend to do it. Kirsty. Degree in horticulture. She’ll know what wild flowers are around; I mean, if I die in the spring, I’ll kill you if you don’t use Stitchwort. And if I die in the summer, I’ll kill you if you don’t use Meadowsweet.”

“What if you die in winter?”

“That’s my next question,” I say, “no. Never mind winter, Kirsty’s on flowers. What music will you play? Bearing in mind I’m called after an opera.”

“Not bloody opera. No-one likes opera. What’s the name of that song you and your sisters…”

I fear I know the one.

“Christ, what is it?” I very much fear I know the one.

“Wrong answer,” I say.

“I haven’t given you an answer yet,” he says, “so how do you know it’s wrong? Christ, it’s like I’m sitting some sort of weird exam,” he says.

“You are,” I say, “in fact, from this day forward, you can forget all about, ‘she’s dead and unable to have an opinion’, and start thinking, ‘my wife has set me an exam that she will definitely be marking from beyond the grave’.”

“GOT IT!” he shouts, “GLORIA GAYNOR — “I WILL SURVIVE.”


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